Permaculture Principle 11:  Use Edges and Value the Marginal


When we founded Loving Garland Green in October of 2013, we set the permaculture principles as our ideals to aim for as stewards of the Garland Community Garden.  As such, we use no pesticides other than insect soap down at the garden. We also have an agreement with the City that they will not use pesticides or herbicides on their property that directly adjoins the garden.

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly using the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.

Membership in Loving Garland Green for most of us includes following the 12 principles of permaculture.   You can find them on our website at

The eleventh principle is one that is not always readily understood and more than once I’ve explained it to people because it is an important principle to observe in nature.  We can learn from our observations and then to use this knowledge as leverage to bring changes that conserve energy and maximize existing potential.  

Permaculture Principle 11:  Use Edges and Value the Marginal

As a culture we rarely use or even think of edges as any more than boundaries that separate different parts or areas.  As for “valuing the marginal”—more often than not, we view marginal as unstable and dangerous and run from it at full throttle.

David Holmgren, one of the co-founders of permaculture as a discipline is often quoted as saying:  “Don’t think you are on the right path just because you have plenty of company.”  That statement is a good principle in and of itself (even if it is not specifically one of the 12 permaculture principles).  And yes, almost the entire world can be wrong and historically have been more than once.  We all need to remember that. Ignorance can often manifest and spread like weeds to the far corners of the earth. The number does not increase the value of the weed.  If anything, it only makes it more noxious.

In nature, the place where two eco-systems or habitats meet (e.g. woodland and meadow) is generally more productive and richer in the variety of species present than either habitat on its own. In ecology this space is called 'ecotone'.

This observation of nature is central to the idea of using edges as a design method. The logic is simple. If the most productive bit of woodland is the edge, then design it to have a bigger edge.  Makerspaces that I've written about lately can be considered as putting permaculture principle 11 into action.  The makerspace is a way to widen the narrow edge occupied by skilled workers through the creation of spaces that make their tools and expertise available for teaching others.  The unskilled workers bring their own life experiences to this edge or space and thus new ways to use the tools and new possibilities for creation of new objects emerge from the merging of these two different worlds of the teacher and the student.

Intuitively, at least, we show some propensity to use edges and value the marginal.  For example, many people in the world desire to live near or on the edge where the water meets the land—lakefront properties, beach properties, and riverfront properties.  That we value such edges is reflected in the prices that we are willing to pay for these edge properties.

But it is peculiar how we can have such an understanding at one level that indicates a deeper understanding of the underlying principle and then turn around and totally disregard the principle in other applications. 

No better example of this than the way we have laid out our streets—particularly in residential areas.  If anything, the grid pattern which most residential developments follow totally ignores the edge and how it could be used to enhance the quality of any residential development and the lives of the people who live there. 

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